Saturday, October 15, 2005


Gary F. Patton
Customer Care Specialist

Friday, October 14, 2005

Whatever happened to customer service?

Have you noticed changes in customer service? There was a time when customer service was an important part of doing business — a time when the last thing a business owner wanted was an unhappy patron.

Despite a slight uptick this past quarter, The American Customer Satisfaction Index, a survey run by the University of Michigan, has dropped for most of this year and is at one of its lowest levels in the past decade.

Another survey this year of 2,000 customers in the United States and Great Britain by the management consulting group, Accenture, found nearly half the respondents had switched service providers in at least one industry because of poor service.

Customer service has gotten soo bad in North America, there is an national American TV ad campaign that capitalizes on all the consumer angst. Thirty-second spots by courier firm DHL show a rapid-fire sequence of scenes from customer hell -- a waitress sloshing coffee on a diner, a woman stranded in the rain as a gas station attendant ignores her, a bagger slamming a jug of milk on top of other groceries -- all to a saccharine rendition of "What the World Needs Now." The ad concludes with the narrator saying, "Whatever happened to customer service? At DHL, it's alive and well."

Karen Jones, vice president of brand, advertising and promotions for DHL, said the response to the ads has been strong and that she has received several letters from people saying, "Yes! You tapped into what is going on in the marketplace."

I thought maybe it was just me and the customers I talk to in the course of my customer care practice. So I Googled: "customer care sucks". I got 1, 840,000 hits of irate customers sharing their horror stories.

Now It's Your Turn!:
What is customer service like on average in your 'neck of the woods'? What customer service representative negative trait bugs you the most? What positive one delights you the most? (My 'Comment Section', in which you can share anonymously, will open to you when you click on "comments" immediately below this post.)

Until next time, how can I help you? (You can contact me by clicking here. Also, contact me directly to be added to Patton Associates S-M-A-R-TBriefing™ Mailing List. Check out recent samples here.)

Wednesday, September 21, 2005

"Team Spirit Built from the Top" by Jim Clemmer

Jim Clemmer is one of Canada's foremost organizational development consultants. I discover great wisdom in his "Improvment Point's" e-tip.

If you would like to improve the team spirit in your organization, here are some of the things to do and not do according to Mr. Clemmer.

Here's Jim Clemmer ...

Team spirit is the catalyst every organization needs to achieve outstanding performance. Strategic plans, marketing, technology, and capital investment are clearly important, but emotional commitment of the people using the tools and executing the plans is what determines whether companies sink or soar.

Too often, clients and customers have their expectations raised by shiny and expensive facilities, only to be treated like intruders once they step inside. Companies can make huge investments in technologies yet have indifferent frontline staff who demonstrate about as much enthusiasm for customers and their needs as a teenager for more rules and supervision.

For the most effective companies, organizational spirit or culture is a major competitive advantage. Companies can purchase the same equipment, technologies, products, people, brands, facilities, and other tangible assets as their competitors.

But they cannot buy the intangible culture of caring for customers or commitment to high quality that makes or breaks all their tangible investments. This can only be earned through strong and consistent leadership.

Killing Spirit

Here are some ways that ineffective managers often kill an organization's spirit and build a culture of mediocrity:

  • External advertising and branding is inconsistent with what people working inside the company experience every day on the job. This increases "the snicker factor," deepens cynicism, and emotionally disconnects the staff delivering the services from their organization. So customers see a big gap between their expectations set by the company's marketing efforts and the actual service experience.
  • But managers -- especially senior managers -- rarely experience the customer's frustration. When frontline servers (already feeling unvalued by management) are further demoralized by unhappy customers, managers will often say frontline staff are to blame, and order customer service training, motivational/incentive programs, paternalistic recognition programs and the like. Or senior managers may push harder on performance-management systems to hold frontline staff and/or their supervisors more accountable for delivering respectful and caring customer service.
  • There's a lot of talk about empowerment while there are still too many approval levels, slow decision-making, and rules ("you're empowered but check with us first"). There's talk of an open-door policy, but closed minds or coolness often greet people who raise unpopular issues or bad news. When people participate in surveys and focus groups, they rarely hear back about what was done with their input.
  • Despite pious declarations about the importance of people, leadership and values, many managers treat people in their organizations with about as much care as they would attach to office equipment. Workers are just one more set of assets to be managed. Phrases like "head count," "human capital" and "my people," dehumanize and objectify workers. We could push this further and make the same argument for "human resources." Most of us want to be treated as a person, not a resource.
  • Management staff and management issues are treated with much higher priority than those of frontline staff. Managers spend most of their time in their own offices, working with each other. They spend little time on the frontlines. Rarely are frontline staff asked about opinions or issues.
  • Managers too often have the attitude: "If I want any of your bright ideas I'll give them to you." Once every year or two, management might run an organizational survey, then discount results as "just their perception, not reality." Or managers might exhort supervisors to improve morale in their organizations.
  • Paternalistic recognition programs provide condescending pats on the head, much like those given the family dog. Managers give out compliments or recognition as if they expect a receipt.

Building Spirit

Pride, for many people, is more important than money. In organizations in which people are disrespected and poorly treated, higher pay becomes a key way of compensating for the soul-destroying drudgery of the job. In contrast, highly spirited and well-led organizations are often competitive in their financial pay scales but way ahead of their counterparts in "psychic pay" via higher levels of pride and satisfaction.

Most people want to be on a winning team, to feel proud of the organization and their own accomplishments. This emotional connection provides a deep sense of making a difference through meaningful work. Highly effective leaders nurture a strong "pride of craft" for the products or services the organization provides and what these do for customers. Workers feel valued for what they do. Individual, team, and organizational accomplishments and milestones are celebrated. Everyone feels emotionally committed to the team or organization's goals, purpose, and customers.

There are many ways that strong leaders can build organization spirit. Here are a few suggestions:
  • General Electric's famous "workout" process involved large "town hall meetings" to identify non-value-added work and to take that work out of the organization's systems and processes. Many variations of this approach can be used to streamline support systems that get in the way. Bureaucracy, errors, rework and inefficiency kill commitment while slowing things down and adding lots of cost. Formally and informally ask people what makes them feel they are doing useful work and what makes them feel they are doing useless work. Involve them in developing action plans to build on the useful work and eliminate or reduce the useless work.
  • Build a highly customer-focused organization. Bring a constant stream of customers into your organization. Invite them to planning sessions, feature them at recognition or celebration events, ask them to tell stories about how your products/services are being used and making a difference. Capture those stories on video, audio or in print, and circulate them widely. Frequently get people in your organization (especially those serving the people who are serving customers) out to meet customers.
  • Keep things simple and direct. Keep business units small and give teams autonomy. Keep pruning back the bureaucracy of centralization, rules, complicated systems and multistep processes. These disconnect and frustrate people while killing spirit and making work meaningless.
  • Encourage and promote humour to release tension in a situation and keep people looking at the lighter side of things. But ensure that humorous comments don't disguise barbs and "sniping" among team members. And avoid humorous putdowns of others that may reinforce a sense of "they are out to get us."
  • Lead change with examples of how your organization has gone through tough times or major changes like these before. Appeal to a proud heritage. Tell them how you've all come from a lineage of leaders and it's everyone's obligation to build an even stronger organization as a legacy for future generations.
  • Keep highly visible scoreboards, big thermometers (as in a fund-raising campaign), bulletin boards, Intranet sites, voice-mail messages and newsletters to update everyone on progress toward key goals or change and improvement targets. Make goals/targets and progress as visible as possible.
  • Look for every opportunity to recognize and celebrate significant accomplishments and milestones reached. Model and encourage simple "Thank yous!" and reinforce positive behaviour whenever you see it.

Keep in mind that we are all searching for more meaningful work with an organization or a team we can feel proud of. We don't just want a job. We want to go beyond success to significance. We want to make a difference. We want passion, excitement, and a sense of deeper purpose from our work.

Copyright ©1996-2005 The CLEMMER Group. All rights reserved.

You can receive "Improvement Points" like this one on various organizational development topics, three times weekly, on a complimentary basis, by clicking here.

Now It's Your Turn!: What do you think and how do you feel about what Mr. Clemmer shares above? What has worked best in building a team spirit in your organization? Or destroying it? (My 'Comment Section', in which you can share anonymously, will open to you when you click on "comments" immediately below this post.)

Until next time, how can I help you? (You can contact me by clicking here. Also, contact me directly to be added to Patton Associates’ S-M-A-R-TBriefing™ Mailing List. Check out recent samples here.)

Monday, September 19, 2005

"What Are The Real Differences Between Men & Women?"

Men are from Mars! Women are from …! Yes, many of us can complete the phrase. And, possibly, because we can, we may have a major problem.

The popular media and books have portrayed men and women as psychologically very different. But, as you will discover in the report below of a recent article in the American Psychological Association Journal, reported today by Newswise, these differences seem to be greatly overestimated.

An adjustment of this over-estimation could assist you to work with your staff and customers far more effectively and productively.

Here is this powerful article ...

“Men and Women Found More Similar than Portrayed in Popular Media”

“Newswise — The popular media has portrayed men and women as psychologically different as two planets – Mars and Venus - but these differences are vastly overestimated and the two sexes are more similar in personality, communication, cognitive ability and leadership than realized, according to a review of 46 meta-analyses conducted over the last 20 years.

“According to the meta-analysis of studies on gender differences, males and females from childhood to adulthood are more alike than different on most but not all psychological variables, said psychologist Janet S. Hyde, Ph.D., of the University of Wisconsin in Madison. Psychological differences based on gender were examined in studies that looked at a number of psychological traits and abilities to determine how much gender influenced an outcome. The traits and variables examined were cognitive abilities, verbal and nonverbal communication, social or psychological traits like aggression or leadership, psychological well-being like self-esteem, motor behaviors like throwing distance and moral reasoning.

“Gender differences accounted for either zero or a very small effect for most of the psychological variables examined, according to Hyde. Only motor behaviors (throwing distance), some aspects of sexuality and heightened physical aggression showed marked gender differences.

“Furthermore, gender differences seem to depend on the context they were measured in, said Hyde. In studies where gender norms are removed, researchers demonstrated how important gender roles and social context were in determining a person’s actions. In one study where participants in the experimental group were told that they were not identified as male or female nor wore any identification, neither sex conformed to a stereotyped image when given the opportunity to act aggressively. They did the opposite to what was expected.

“Over-inflated claims of gender difference seen in the mass media affect men and women in work, parenting and relationships, said Hyde. Studies of gender and evaluation of leaders in the workplace show that women who go against the caring, nurturing stereotype may pay for it dearly when being hired or evaluated. This also happens with the portrayals of relationships in the media. Best-selling books and popular magazine articles assert that women and men can’t get along because they communicate too differently, said Dr. Hyde. Maybe the problem is that they give up prematurely because they believe they can’t change what they mistakenly believe is an innate trait, she added.

“Children also suffer the consequences of these exaggerated claims of gender difference. There is a wide spread belief that boys are better in math than girls, said Dr Hyde. But according to this meta-analysis, boys and girls perform equally in math until high school where boys do gain a small advantage. Unfortunately, elementary aged mathematically-talented girls may be overlooked by parents who have lower expectations for a daughter’s success in math versus a son’s likelihood to succeed in math. Research has shown that parents’ expectations for their children’s math success relate strongly to a child’s self-confidence and his or her performance.

“The misrepresentation of how different the sexes are, which is not supported by the scientific evidence, harms men and women of all ages in many different areas of life, said Dr. Hyde. “The claims can hurt women’s opportunities in the workplace, dissuade couples from trying to resolve conflict and communication problems and cause unnecessary obstacles that hurt children and adolescents’ self-esteem.”

“Full text of the article,
“The Gender Similarities Hypothesis,” Janet Shibley Hyde, Ph.D., University of Wisconsin – Madison; American Psychologist, Vol. 60, No. 6, is available from the APA Public Affairs Office or here.

The American Psychological Association (APA), in Washington, DC, is the largest scientific and professional organization representing psychology in the United States and is the world’s largest association of psychologists. APA’s membership includes more than 150,000 researchers, educators, clinicians, consultants, and students. Through its divisions in 53 subfields of psychology and affiliations with 60 state, territorial, and Canadian provincial associations, APA works to advance psychology as a science, as a profession, and as a means of promoting health, education and human welfare.”

© 2005 Newswise. All Rights Reserved.

Now It's Your Turn!: Does your personal experience confirm or deny what the researcher seems to have discovered about what we have been previously led to believe? How might this article change the way you may deal with the opposite gender on and off your job? (My 'Comment Section', in which you can share anonymously, will open to you when you click on "comments" immediately below this post.)

Until next time, how can I help you? (You can contact me by clicking here. Also, contact me directly to be added to Patton Associates’ S-M-A-R-TBriefing™ Mailing List. Check out recent samples here.)

Friday, August 26, 2005

Management Minute by Cy Charney

Cy Charney, President of Charney & Associates (905-886-5606,, is a leading Canadian management consultant focusing on organizational performance improvement. Following is a brief excerpt from his book, 'The Portable Mentor', published by Stoddart.

Meetings ...Managing People

Achieving your meeting objectives will be easier if you manage the people involved. A variety of behaviours will be demonstrated in any meeting, but there are many ways to deal with each.

Dealing with aggressive behaviour can be tough. Strategies to use include:
  1. Remaining calm. Showing anger allows the aggressors to feel that they have successfully caused you to lose your composure.
  2. Allowing people to vent. If someone wants to discuss a problem that is not on the agenda but that he needs to get off his chest, let him vent for a short while. If his issue is legitimate, albeit off topic, show empathy by agreeing. When he is finished, ask id he is done, and if so whether you can proceed with the topic at hand.
  3. Avoiding giving people a political platform. Don't allow people to use your meeting for their own political agendas. If someone's tone of voice is hostile and she begins to hijack your meeting, intervene when she stops for breath and point out firmly but politely that the matter may be important but that this is not the meeting at which it will be addressed.
  4. Avoiding debates. If a person is totally out of line, making exaggerated claims or suggesting ridiculous ideas, don't debate with him. Canvass his peers to confirm that he alone holds that view. If there is general agreement that the hostile person's argument is invalid, confirm this by saying, "Well, it looks like no one agrees with you, so why don't we agree to discuss this later?" Then move on to the next item on the agenda.
  5. Finding out the reason for a person's anger so that you can deal with it inside or outside the meeting. If that person feels that you emphasize, even though you cannot solve the problem, she will be more inclined to co-operate. This can be done within the meeting, if the issue is relevant, or outside if it is not.
  6. Taking the person aside at a break or at the end of the meeting. Share your observations and frustrations. Ask for help in making the next meeting productive.
You can bring out the best in quiet or withdrawn people if you:
  1. Invite participation by maintaining eye contact and directing questions at them periodically.
  2. Use the person's name when asking questions so no one else can answer.
  3. Ask questions the person should be able to answer to encourage self-esteem.
  4. Sit opposite the quietest person so that your conversation can be directed at him.
  5. Make quiet people feel useful. Give them jobs that will increase their visibility. The role of recorder will ensure that the person is standing up while canvassing ideas from the group.
  6. Use a round robin to collect ideas. This technique gives everyone a chance to express an idea. People who don't have one can pass.
  7. Get opinions on issues by asking questions that require a yes or no response. Praise people without appearing patronizing if they expand on their ideas.
  8. Give people advance notice of subjects to be dealt with in the meeting so they can collect their thoughts.
  9. Canvass their ideas one on one outside the meeting. If necessary, express those ideas to the group, giving due credit for it.
If someone tries to dominate your meeting, you can use many of the same techniques you use to deal with shy people. But they must be used in reverse. For example:
  1. Sit next to the person and keep eye contact to a minimum.
  2. Look at everyone but the dominator when posing questions to the group.
  3. Point out the problem outside the meeting, while expressing your appreciation for the input. Ask for help in keeping everyone involved.
  4. Interject when the person stops to catch breath. You can say, "Thank you. What other opinions are there?"
  5. Indicate your desire to get a variety of opinions before you ask a question.
  6. Get opinions in sequence (round robin), reaching the dominant person last.
If someone tries to sidetrack your meeting, you can:
  1. Post the meeting objectives where they can be seen by all. Before the meeting begins, get agreement to stick to the agenda.
  2. Point to the objective on the wall and ask if people could focus their comments on the central meeting purpose.
  3. Ask how the issue is related to the subject under discussion.
  4. Interrupt when the person takes a breath, with a comment such as "Thank you, but it appears we are on to something else. Could we agree to get back on topic?"
  5. Allot a "Parking Lot" on a flip chart to record issues unrelated to the meeting. Agree to deal with these issues later.
People can be difficult! Meetings can be hard to manage even when attendees are co-operative! Based on my facilitation experience, Cy's are great tips that will help you in a pinch. When we are called in to assist organizations with their meeting challenges that are impacting on their customer service, I share these and many more.

What tip above will be most helpful to you and why? What meeting management tip can you share that works for you and is not in Cy's list? My 'comment section' will open to you when you click on 'comments' immediately below.

Until next time, how can I help you?

Tuesday, August 23, 2005

"More Effective Decision Making"

Life comes with difficult challenges, but individuals can take steps to solve problems more efficiently.

There are five, key steps according to University of Alabama at Birmingham clinical psychologist Timothy Elliott, Ph.D.. These were reported by NewsWise earlier today.

Hopefully, you will find them as helpful as did I. Here are Elliott’s five steps. I’ve suggested a sixth for your consideration:

1. Get the facts! “Don’t try to solve something that you don’t have all of the information about.”

2. Stay positive! “Trying to solve a problem when you’re frustrated or angry only limits your ability to think.”

3. Be creative! “Sometimes the simplest of problems seem complicated because we aren’t willing to be creative in our solutions. Try bouncing some ideas off of a friend or family member.”

4. Consider how well you understand the problem. “Make sure you understand who or what is causing the problem.”

5. Consider the positive and negative outcomes of each possible solution.

My suggestion on the last step is to weight the pros and cons carefully but as quickly as possible. This way you will avoid what I call ‘decision paralysis’.

Have executed the five steps, here’s my sixth …

6. Make your decision comfortably knowing the you have done the best you know how in making the wisest choice. Remember: Life is no fun without some risk. And we learn fastest and best by making mistakes. Babies learn to walk by falling down and getting right back up again.

What are your biggest challenges in making good decisions? What tips(s) would you add to what I’ve shared above? Share what you think and how you feel about the content of this post by clicking on ‘comments’ immediately below.

Until next time, how can I help you?

Monday, August 08, 2005

Practices of Life-Affirming Leaders

These are the practises that the Berkana Institute share as the ones the leaders they work with demonstrate:
  1. Life-affirming leaders are able to nourish and evoke the best qualities in people-their creativity, commitment and caring. To evoke these qualities, leaders use many different processes, but all of these approaches rely on life's innate capacity to self-organize in creative, sustainable, and generous ways. Life-affirming leaders:
  2. Know they cannot lead alone. In these complex times, no one person is smart enough to know what to do. Many different perspectives are necessary in order to gain a fuller understanding of what is happening.
  3. Have more faith in people than they do in themselves. This is especially important in organizations and nations where people have been oppressed or told they're not capable of being creative or powerful. Leaders patiently and courageously insist on peoples' participation as the means to discover their potential and contribute to the organization and community.
  4. Recognize human diversity as a gift, and the human spirit as a blessing. We each see the world differently. When we share these unique perceptions, we gain a larger perspective of what's going on. And it is only our great human spirits that bless us with hope and possibility even in the worst circumstances. media.
  5. Act on the fact that people only support what they create. And only act responsibly for what they care about. Therefore, leaders engage people in anything that affects them. Decision-making processes expand to include more and more voices.
  6. Solve unsolvable problems by bringing new voices into the room. Systems grow healthier as they connect with those formerly excluded. New and different information changes how we define the problem, and make new solutions available.
  7. Use learning as the fundamental process for resiliency, change and growth. When reflection and learning are built in to all activities and projects, people become intelligent. We quickly find workable and innovative solutions. Without reflection, we keep repeating our mistakes.
  8. Offer purposeful work as the necessary condition for people to engage fully. When people know why they're doing their work and connect with the purpose of it, they then assume responsibility for that work. They become creative and work hard to find the most effective solutions.
You can discover more about the interesting work of the Berkana Institute here.